Italian cinema has become closely associated with the gangster-movie genre, yet the directorial debut of collaborators Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza has taken elements from that distinctive style of film to create something slightly different. The central, titular, character played by Saleh Bakri is a mafia hitman who whilst pursuing his next victim, meets the target’s blind sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco). This presents an fascinating encounter which leads him to question his flailing morals. The technical aspects are bold and ambitious, the clever use of audio offering up an often intense sensory experience but the dialogue-light story wears thin, running out of ideas about halfway through.
We are with the slick assassin Salvo pretty much from start to finish, from his alarm clock waking him in his dank and derelict bed-sit, through him scoffing lunch, to driving around what appears to be the incredibly bumpy backstreets of Palermo. A wide range of camera techniques are employed, from static shots, shaky-cam over-the-shoulder car journeys to atmospheric floor sequences. For a leading man, Lacoste-loving Salvo has little to say so the bold visuals do well to hold interest and build suspense for his first meeting with Rita. This scene is a highlight, as the focus switches to the vulnerable blind sister of Mafioso man Renato. The sound heightens and we see her blurred perspective of only shapes and colours, and by placing the audience in her susceptible state the sense of danger is also ramped up. Her fragility thaws his ice-cold demeanour, stopping him in his tracks and forcing him to consider his options. Does he save the girl and change his ways or put her out of her misery?
The latter parts of the film fail to match up to the initial excitement of when Salvo first comes across Rita, and descends into convention, even angling in a little romance that sadly refuses to gel with the noir themes explored. The narrative slows down to the point where it nearly moves backwards and the soundtrack gets quite stale and repetitive. There is one entertaining scene though, where dialogue is surprisingly used quite sparingly for a conversation between Salvo and a mob boss who looks like a cross between Tony Soprano and Jimmy Saville. I am far from against a minimalist script, and loved Ryan Gosling’s hushed anti-heroes of Drive and Only God Forgives, but Bakri lacked the necessary magnetism to carry it off. Serraiocco is great with what she has to work with, and has the perfect expressionistic face to act with little material.
Salvo doesn’t tick enough genre boxes to be classed as a gangster film, yet doesn’t stray away from it far enough to become anything else. Instead, the flawed result is caught in no man’s land somewhere in the middle and despite its consistently intriguing cinematography, promising for first time feature filmmakers, it has no real lasting impact. With a stronger, more involving script, the characters would gain more depth which would in turn allow them to fully absorb the emotionally charged topic of redemptive love and take on the plot, rather than just exist within it.